I drive a diesel (thank you for your sympathy – you’re too kind). When I bought it off a friend of mine, he said to me: ‘the great thing about diesels is that even though the fuel is slightly more expensive than petrol, it gets better mileage, so you’re still better off.’ As he walked away, I thought I heard him laughing. And about thirty seconds later, the credit and housing bubbles burst, setting in motion the economic disruption that has resulted in what you read about in the news every day and I cry myself to sleep about every night: the upward-spiralling price of diesel.

I may be exaggerating a little. My friend, of course couldn’t have known that diesel would fast become more expensive and impractical as a fuel than gold-extract or panda-juice. And, of course, it’s about more than diesel.

But the fact is that the economic crisis hitting much of the first and developing world (but for which, in the UK, our Prime Minister is personally blamed) is making news because its implications affect everybody.

Fuel prices have shot into the sky like black gold from a new and profitable well (with Tories using the opportunity to parade greenwashed rhetoric while rejecting actual environmental measures in Europe and at home). Food prices have ballooned like the waistlines of the average western consumer and for weeks the news has focused on little else. Last week the chancellor asked workers not to demand pay-rises that keep pace with inflation (because those costs will be passed on to consumers, necessitating more pay hikes). Gordon Brown asked oil producing countries to dig deep and produce more. Analysts and economists all over the UK predicted ‘austerity Britain’, where lack of disposable income would cause a retail slow-down.

And, yet, according to news last week, shop sales last month increased by the largest amount they have done in 20 years. That is to say: people have been spending record amounts, despite economists telling us that they wouldn’t. What does this tell us? Well, for one thing, that economists are not always right. And the reason is simple. Economics, as it influences our lives, is a pseudo science, based on specific philosophical assumptions every bit as biased as if the economists we saw on tv were all raging Marxists.

This economics that tells us what is good for our society and our world is the same, neo-classical system that has for years been telling us that unlimited growth (in production, which means in how much we extract from the earth and pump into the atmosphere and dump in landfill) is not only eternally possible, but desirable. This economics has been telling us how well we’ve been doing as we poured more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, crippled developing countries with unfair trade relationships and employed slaves to make most of what we impulse-buy.

It has encouraged a headlong stampede into consumerist culture, where every experience is mediated by a commercial transaction, where consequently we measure happiness in possessions and individual potential in the extent to which we worship money. And now it has assumed that ordinary people, drunk on advertising, full of artificially created desires and ‘needs’, will let the invisible hand of the market direct their behaviour. What were people buying last month? Necessities? Food for their children? No. Bikinis; Grand Theft Auto computer games; flat-screen TVs and new mobile phones.

Obviously economists have some things right. But Christians should beware of trusting philosophies or systems whose entire existence is based on greed, self-interest, and ‘growth’ that means treating every earthly resource, including people, as disposable, for the sake of profit.

For an introduction to one of  several alternatives, watch this:


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